The trip to Mars can only be understood through Black Americans…the captured knew that they were in trouble, in an unknown place with a violent and capricious species…there reached a point when the captured could not only not look back, they had no idea which way “back” might be. And in that moment a decision had to be made: do they continue forward with the resolve to see this thing through, or do they embrace the waters and find another world?
Nikki Giovanni’s “Quilting the Black Eyed Pea (We’re Going to Mars)” is one of my favorite poems that speaks on how to survive in this new world. In her poem she very elegantly communicates Western philosophical struggle through this sentence said from the Eurocentric perspective:
We’re going to Mars because whatever is
wrong with us will not get right with us
so we journey forth carrying the same baggage
but every now and then leaving
one little bitty thing behind:
maybe drop torturing hunchbacks here;
maybe drop lynching Billy Budd there;
maybe not whipping Uncle Tom to death;
maybe resisting global war.
One day looking for prejudice to slip … one
day looking for hatred to tumble by the wayside
Recently I have been working on presenting the first chapter of Mariamba Ani’s “Yuguru” that focuses on the difference between African and European Utamawazo. Utamawazo being a culture’s underlying assumptions. African Utamawazo sees human beings as cosmic being that interacts with the world through symbolism. Time is experience as eternal through ritual and is understood through the Congo Cosmogram. Whereas European Utamawazo ingrains difference and rigid meaning in its interactions, separates itself from the world and allows “manisfestdestiny” or the future justify immoral behaviors of the present.
As I transition back into practicing art I have been focusing on my journey of understanding myself as a cosmic being through my own culture as an African American from Houston, Texas. As I dedicate myself more to my practice, my feelings mirror the words of Giovanni when she wrote:
NASA needs to call Black America. They need to ask us ‘How did you calm your fears? How were you able to decide you were human, even when everything said you’re not? How did you find comfort in the face of the improbable, to make the world you came to your world? How was your soul able to look back and wonder?’
These questions used to dominate my thoughts, but as I created art, cloths, movies, books, and graphic novels I found meaning and peace within chaos. This act of creation keeps me centered. This act of creating keeps Black America centered. It helps us create the world around us. I find that I practice art not just to soothe my soul anymore, but to soothe the soul of those of my community who have lost their symbolic practice and are lost in the chaos.
Thus my art practice has lead me back to creating cloth. As Giovanni indicates to those lost in the chaos of space:
as you climb down the ladder from your
spaceship to the Martian surface … look to
your left … and there you’ll see a smiling
community quilting a black-eyed pea …
watching you descend
When I was a child my mother taught me how to crochet. I love creating cloth, which is a passion I inherit from my culture. Even though I have been crocheting my whole life I am looking to create a sewn quilt with my family. African American quilting is a traditional method to symbolize African cosmology and philosophy. I am inspired by traditional patterns that signify the cosmogram, such as the wheel pattern below. The simple act of quilting will connect me to my ancestors, provide me comfort, and symbolize my own journey through the universe.